Creativity and the thoughts of others

This year I’m experimenting with creativity. It’s a broad field, but my goal is to personally create more and better products and ideas.

One thing I realized last year was how easy it was in this world of information to sit back and just take it all in. I could spend all day reading blogs, watching YouTube videos, responding to email, checking Google News. I felt tremendously informed, and proud that I was an active searcher of information, not merely taking what television delivered. But I wasn’t creating anything myself.

In trying to break that cycle, I’ve realized something: if you want to be creative, other people’s thoughts are very dangerous.

Of course it’s important to listen and learn from other people. But that process doesn’t necessarily involve me creating anything new, and its addictive nature means that once I start I’m likely to continue passively receiving. So it’s important to be intentional about what information I let inform me, and when and how I do it.

It’s especially dangerous to start my day with somebody else’s thoughts. If I don’t take the morning, the only untouched part of the day, for my own thoughts, then right from the start any original thoughts I might have had are changed by other people. Again, that may be a good thing eventually–but since this is the only time my totally unique thoughts exist, it’s worth preserving them that way for at least a little while.

What does this mean practically? For me, it means being very careful about when I check email, news, and blogs. All these things are important. In fact, they’re important enough to consume my thinking once I interact with them.

It also means especially protecting my morning. I recently saw a quote from William Blake that sounded especially wise: “Think in the morning, act in the noon, read in the evening, and sleep at night.” (In [the same article]( I was surprised how many business leaders let others set their agenda through email and the news, though this may be unique to CEOs as opposed to, say, chief *innovation* officers).

This is getting more and more difficult. Two days ago I got a phone that can check my email and my blog reading. I could be reading email within seconds of waking up, still in bed. It takes real discipline for me to not do so, but it’s worth it. I managed to write this thought before reading any email–doubt it would exist had I logged in already.